Since UN peacekeeping was formed in 1948, Canada has been known around the world for its incredible dedication to peacekeeping and participation in missions. One of our own Prime Ministers, Lester B.
Pearson, won the Nobel Peace prize for Canada’s outstanding effort in peacekeeping. Despite that, over the last 25 years, this has changed. Canada has decreased its total number of troops, amount of funding and is now participating in less peacekeeping missions.
Instead of peacekeeping, Canada as a nation has become more and more invested in combat fighting in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. As a result, today in society, Canada does not deserve its reputation as a peacekeeping country. One of the main factors why Canada has lost its peacekeeping reputation is its sharp decline in troops participating in UN missions. In the first 40 years of peacekeeping, Canada had sent over 80 000 troops to wear the famous blue beret which accounted for 10% of the total number. At the time, Canada was the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping and had three thousand three hundred thirty-six troops in August of 1993. Furthermore, over one-third of members in the Canadian military was involved, or had previously been involved in a peacekeeping mission. Since then, Canada has fallen from the top 5 all the way to seventy-third (out of 124) in the number of troops sent. Today, the demand for troops is at an all-time high but Canada’s contribution is at an all-time low.
As of August 2017, there were 94 000 active blue berets. Out of those, only 34 were Canadian. The majority of these Canadians are working in an office at a UN headquarters and not actually on the ground peacekeeping. The number of Canadian troops has already decreased by over 75% in the last year and will continue to do so as missions are ending. As can be seen, Canada is phasing out of sending troops and peacekeeping altogether. As a result, Canada is also not participating in UN peacekeeping missions.
With less and less troops, Canada has gradually stopped participating in peacekeeping missions. In the early years of UN missions, Canada was always one of the first countries to sign up for missions around the world. No matter what the circumstance or location, Canada was always there. They continually were one of the most active and donated troops, equipment, and funds. In fact, Canada had become famous worldwide for not missing a single UN mission from its inception all the way until 1995. That is a grand total of over 50 missions. This is one of the main reasons why Canada had earned its reputation as a peacekeeping country.
In spite of this, during present day, Canada has not lived up to its reputation. Currently, there are 16 United Nations Peacekeeping missions operating in places such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, Canada isn’t involved in any of them. The last mission that Canada was involved in was Eritrea in 2001. That means that Canada has been largely inactive for over 16 years. When the UN asked nations to donate troops to Syria, the government declined saying that it was no longer in the peacekeeping business. The government also declined a request for a retired lieutenant-general named Andrew Leslie to lead the forces in Congo. This was a clear sign that Canada no longer wished to be involved in crisis’ that they were not directly involved in.
Furthermore, this year on November 14 & 15, Canada hosted a United Nations Peacekeeping Conference in Vancouver. It is said that if Canada was not the host nation for the conference, they would not have been invited to participate in the meetings. The United Nations has even stopped asking Canada to donate troops.This is due to their lack of involvement in missions since the beginning of the millennium.
Canada’s choice not to participate in peacekeeping missions can largely be attributed to several failed missions over the course of the 1990’s. The 1990’s were a time where the United Nations was participating in a great number of missions worldwide. They were coming off a decade where everything was running smoothly and most missions were a success. Canada was involved in several of these missions and played a key role to help ensure that there was peace in war-torn countries. Many had hoped that the next years to come would also be just as good as the last. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as not all missions were successful in keeping peace and many failed. As a result of these failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, Canada rethought its role in peacekeeping.
It all started in 1992 with the Bosnian Crisis. Bosnia had declared independence from Yugoslavia. This caused conflict between the Orthodox Serbians, Christian Croatians and Muslim Bosnians. Both the Croatians and the Bosnians wanted a multicultural nation where everyone could live freely.
However, the Serbians wanted to make the Bosnian land a part of Serbia. War broke out and intense fighting began. Canadian troops had joined up with other countries to help keep the peace between all parties. Peacekeeping missions prior to this time had typically not been so dangerous. But peacekeeping in the Balkans changed this. Not only were peacekeepers caught in the crossfire, they were also targeted and threatened.
On June 20th, 1995, Canadian peacekeepers were trapped in their campground near Sarajevo after a conflict with the Bosnian army. The Bosnians had surrounded the entire campground with landmines and if anyone left, the entire camp would be blown up. Furthermore, when the United Nations troops tried to bring convoys containing supplies of food for the citizens, the Bosnians declined this support and threatened to blow up the convoys. The Bosnians weren’t the only army targeting Canadians.
Later that year, Canadian UN troops had to take action and fire back at the Serbs when they began shooting at UN tanks. As a result, the mission failed and instead of promoting peace, the intensity escalated. Many people in Canada, including the government, realised the dangers of putting troops in the middle of wars. The government began to question whether it was worth sending troops to a foreign land to try and keep the peace while putting Canadian lives at risk. In Rwanda, the tensions were escalating between the Tutsis and the Hutus.
In an attempt to prevent a genocide, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire called the UN headquarters in New York City to request more troops to aid in the peacekeeping activities. Unfortunately his request was ignored, and as a result, he and the UN troops were helpless while watching thousands of innocent lives being taken away in the genocide. This was an eyeopener for Canada. They realised that if Canada was not going to get support from other UN countries, they were not going to participate in missions or send troops and risk lives. There was no need for Canada to be a part of peacekeeping. In March of 1993, Canadian Peacekeepers were stationed in Somalia on a UN mission. On March 16th, while at their camp, they caught a teenager trying to steal food because he and his family were starving.
The soldiers tied him down and began to beat him with phone books and even burned parts of his body. They continued to torture him until his death later that day. This became news around the world and was called Canada’s National Shame. Instead of keeping peace in Somalia and helping the citizens of that impoverished nation, they killed innocent lives and increased tensions in the country.
This UN mission undoubtedly failed and to this day, still has a negative effect on Canada’s reputation as a peacekeeping country. Furthermore, while the security of states appeared to increase, the security of individual human beings in many parts of the world deteriorated. This was clearly illustrated by the events of the 1990s in the Rwandan Genocide, the scandal over the torture and murder of a Somali teenager and the frustration of being shot at and targeted in a war they weren’t even fighting in. In turn, these events made a deep impression on Canada’s political and military leadership that has lasted until this day. Traditionally, peacekeeping has been a “third-party intervention,” which meant that troops typically maintained a neutral and observant role.
Yet the events and failures in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia demonstrated that it is very difficult to intervene in a conflict and resolve it. In essence, the objective of preventing violence and its impact on ordinary people increasingly requires decisions about intervention in the “internal” affairs of sovereign states. This change in the nature of the “threat” has had significant consequences for Canada’s approach to international security, peacekeeping and diplomacy. Thus we have seen the dramatic decline in the participation of Canadian troops in UN missions.
Instead, it appears that Canada has become more involved with U.S.-NATO-led missions, like in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus, even though Canada was a peacekeeping country in the first forty years of peacekeeping, it no longer deserves its reputation as such. This is due to its failed missions in Bosnia, Rwanda and Somalia, which led to a decreased number of troops being sent and all together, virtually no presence in any United Nations mission since 2001.
Canada has lost its reputation to the point where they are no longer welcome or asked to help the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces.